The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

By Iver Bernstein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Merchants Divided

Merchants were the most identifiable social group in New York City during and after the draft riots and, indeed, through the Civil War epoch. Roland Barthes's aphorism regarding the bourgeoisie--"the social class which does not want to be named"--did not apply to New York's lords of commerce. During the riot week they met on Wall Street to devise a "merchants'" response to the violence and form "merchants'" brigades. After the uprising some of these men created a Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People Suffering from the Late Riots." They sent "merchants' committees" to Washington to advise presidents and supervise legislation. They formed the Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge and The Union League Club of New York" to publicize merchants' positions on the issues of the war. In all these instances, merchants made themselves and their programs plain to view.1

During the riots conservative and radical merchants debated whether to declare martial law. One wing of the commercial elite welcomed the early Monday protest against the draft (though not the insurrectionary violence that followed) and sought to preserve its own home rule by minimizing the federal role in restoring order. These businessmen were willing to negotiate with white draft rioters and ignored black riot victims. Another wing advocated what was by far the most drastic response to the riot. More draconian in outlook than even the industrialists, these merchants hoped to import federal military government, suppress the two uprisings, and institute summary tribunals for rioters and their well-to-do sympathizers. This group championed the cause of the devastated black community and broadcast this theme in a March 1864 ceremony that attempted symbolically to reappropriate the city's public spaces from the white rioters. During and after the riots, then, merchants disputed the role of the nation-state, proper relations between social classes, the status of immigrant and black minorities, and notions of urban space. The draft riots exposed a contest between two merchant camps, each seeking to demonstrate to the community its claim to so

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The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I - Draft Riots and the Social Order 15
  • Chapter 1 - A Multiplicity of Grievances 17
  • Chapter 2 - The Two Tempers of Draco 43
  • Part II - Origins of the Crisis, 1850s and 1860s 73
  • Chapter 3 - Workers and Consolidation 75
  • Chapter 4 - Merchants Divided 125
  • Chapter 5 - Industrialists 162
  • Part III - Resolutions of the Crisis, 1860s and 1870s 193
  • Chapter 6 - The Rise and Decline of Tweed's Tammany Hall 195
  • Chapter 7 - 1872 237
  • Epilogue: The Draft Riots' Lost Significance 259
  • Appendix A - Uptown Social Geography, 1863 265
  • Notes 287
  • Bibliographical Essay 341
  • Index 349
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